Archive for March 29th, 2008


Immigrant Song

Here’s an update on my last post. This Marine finally got his citizenship, and just days after I wrote about it. I assume that the timing is not a coincidence. Well, CNN’s coverage may have helped too…

Anyway, since I started writing about immigration, I might as well go all out today. I figure, hey, why not talk it? After all, this barely examined topic has never been the subject of much discussion. So I guess it’s up to me. Here goes:

When it comes to immigration, I’m for it.

That simple sentence is adequate to provoke death threats in certain parts of the country, and I could just leave my thoughts at that. However, I have a reason for taunting a squadron of Minutemen vigilantes to show up at my front door.

No, it’s not that we’re going to solve the immigration problem within the confines of this blog (although that would be most cool). Rather, I’m hoping for basic acknowledgement of the complexity of this issue, which I admit might be a bit much to ask in a political atmosphere where everybody is either a gun-toting racist or a freeloading parasite, according to whom you listen to.

As I understand it, people who take a hard line claim that illegal immigration is unfair to those who applied legally. Now, I’m sure that it’s frustrating on the principle of the thing, but has anyone ever been denied citizenship because a Mexican got here first?

I’ve also heard that that undocumented workers cost taxpayers too much and drive up crime.  But in actuality, many studies say these workers have a net positive impact on the economy, and I’ve never seen a convincing statistic on skyrocketing crime rates among illegals that wasn’t eventually refuted on

Finally, we’ve heard that a path to citizenship for undocumented workers only encourages others to come here illegally, or that such an approach is amnesty. But my understanding is that amnesty means a clean slate; every proposal I’ve seen involves paying a hefty fine. And do these individuals really need any more encouragement? They’re already leaving their families, ditching their homeland, and risking death for a shot at a job at Wal-Mart.

Again, people who are concerned about illegal immigration are not all redneck jingoists. No doubt, most are sincere and principled individuals.

But a Hispanic has to ask, would some of these people feel as passionately about this issue if the undocumented were illegal whites? And then there is the hypocrisy of those well-off Americans who advocate for the removal of every illegal. They must recognize that these same workers “make their masters-of-the-universe lifestyles possible” (in the words of Mike Davis in his book City of Quartz).

To be fair, people who push for a more open immigration policy have their own issues to confront. While it’s true that we can’t deport every undocumented worker, does this logically follow that we just stop trying to police the border? And while it’s also true that undocumented workers tend to do jobs other Americans won’t take, are they driving down wages and therefore, undercutting a decent wage for citizens?

We’ve heard that it would be an economic disaster to kick out every illegal, and that the cultural impact of recent immigrants is vital. Yes, but does that mean we just let in anyone at any time?

You see the contradictions and issues between these polarizing stances. But few people can even acknowledge that this bedevils simplistic answers. Perhaps it’s because, as so many have noted, illegal immigrants are a very effective boogyman, especially in an election year. Maybe accepting the fact that no solution is perfect, and none is likely to be implemented any time soon, is the first step toward resolving this mess.

I’ll be upfront about my bias. I was fortunate enough to be born in America. This is not an accomplishment, which is what too many people think. Rather, it is just good luck.

Like many Americans, I have relatives who emigrated here within the past generation. Most of them came here legally. Some of them did not. In subsequent posts, I’ll talk more about them and how they have contributed to this country.


March 2008
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